With the 2018 World Cup in Russia kicking off in less than a month, SoccerNews.com is commencing its own series of group predictions where you will be able to find previews of all the teams taking part in this summer’s showpiece tournament, latest team news and best betting odds and suggestions.
It is surely set to be a fascinating summer of football in Russia, and that is no different in Group G.
Dark horses Belgium clash with 1966 winners England. Minnows Panama and Tunisia complete the line-up with both expected to fall to their far more illustrious opponents. Could either channel the spirit of Costa Rica in Brazil and spring a surprise and progress to the last-16 of world football’s showpiece tournament?
The group gets underway on the 18th of June as Panama do battle with Roberto Martinez’s Belgium whilst the Tunisians entertain Gareth Southgate’s Three Lions.
Listado de jugadores llamados a entrenar este martes 15/5 para dar inicio a la preparación del amistoso vs @NorthernIreland.
— FEPAFUT (@fepafut) May 13, 2018
Heading to their first-ever World Cup, there is justifiably a lot of excitement emanating around the Panama team. Failing to qualify in their past ten attempts, the country finished third in the North, Central and Caribbean standings to edge past Honduras and reach the finals.
It will surely be a momentous occasion should they take points during the group stages. They will also aim to do better than their last performance at an international tournament. During the Copa América Centenario in 2016, the team were eliminated at the group stages. However, they did manage to claim a solitary victory by overcoming Bolivia in their opening game.
Hernán Darío Gómez has not named a squad that will be easily recognisable to fans of European football. None of the players heading to Russia with the Panamanian squad currently ply their trade in European leagues.
All-time top goalscorer Luis Tejada is surely the man to keep an eye on though. Whilst a veteran at 36 years of age, he has netted 43 goals in 104 appearances for his country. Seattle Sounders defender Gabriel Torres is also set to be a key cog in the Panama defence and is one to watch.
— Tunisie Football (@tunisiefootball) May 14, 2018
Somewhat of an unknown quantity heading into the tournament, Tunisia are entering their fifth World Cup. After qualifying top of their group in CAF qualification with an undefeated record, the Tunisians could well cause a few shocks in Russia.
Lead by Nabil Maâloul, they will be aiming to qualify for the last-16 for the first time ever, albeit through an extremely difficult group. Tunisia have also never won a match at a World Cup finals so if they do pick up maximum points at some point during their stay in Russia, the competition would surely be perceived as a success in the country.
As with the Panama squad, most will not be too familiar with those representing Tunisia. Supporters of the Premier League could recognise defender Yohan Benalouane who plays his football with Leicester City. Wahbi Khazri may also be one to look out for having briefly represented Sunderland. Star forward Yousseff Msanki, however, has been ruled out for the tournament with a cruciate ligament injury in what could potentially be a huge blow for the team.
— Belgian Red Devils (@BelRedDevils) May 21, 2018
Coming into the tournament as one of the dark horses, Martinez’s Belgian team should have more than enough to qualify from the group. Boasting attacking talents coached by former Arsenal and Barcelona striker Thierry Henry, the Red Devils are an imperious outfit. Despite having failed to qualify for two out of the last three World Cups, they will be aiming to better their quarter-final berth in Brazil. Their all-time best finish at a World Cup is fourth in the 1986 edition of the competition.
Arguably one of the most prominent absentees from Martinez’s first World Cup squad is midfielder Radja Nainggolan. The Roma man announced his international retirement after surprisingly not earning a place in Russia.
The Belgians boast some talented replacements however, with the likes of Eden Hazard, Dries Mertens, Romelu Lukaku and Kevin De Bruyne all providing the team considerable firepower. They also have considerable depth in defence, too. Jan Vertonghen, Toby Alderweireld, Thomas Vermaelen and Vincent Kompany are all vying for positions at the back.
— England (@England) May 16, 2018
Famously winners in 1966, England have failed to replicate any kind of international form on the world stage. The Three Lions have not progressed past the quarter-finals since their victory over 50 years ago. If their past experience at a World Cup is anything to go by, Southgate’s men might as well not bother unpacking. In Brazil, England were all-but eliminated after two group games following defeats to Italy and Uruguay. A 0-0 draw with Costa Rica in their final group game did nothing to appease supporters.
Then managed by Roy Hodgson, the Three Lions were also embarrassed at Euro 2016 as they were eliminated by Iceland in the round of 16.
The Three Lions’ squad is pretty much what was expected, allowing for a couple of surprising absentees. Harry Kane is surely set to lead the line, especially after being awarded the captaincy, having plundered 30 Premier League goals last season. There are plenty of players included in their first World Cup squad; Jordan Pickford, Nick Pope, Harry Maguire and Trent Alexander-Arnold to name but a few. On the other hand, the likes of Joe Hart and Jack Wilshere have not earned a place on the plane.
The odds at most bookmakers firmly have England and Belgium as favourites to qualify from Group H; the duo are priced at 1/8 and 1/12 respectively to reach the round of 16. Meanwhile, Tunisia and Panama are at 9/2 and 9/1 to make it out of the group.
Expectedly, the South American minnows are far from the favourites to win the tournament being named at an eye-watering 1000/1. The Three Lions’ and Red Devils odds are far more tempting, however. Martinez’s men can be backed at 11/1 to win the tournament, whilst England’s value sits at 18/1.
Naturally, the two names that appear when the focus turns to golden boot winner are Harry Kane and Romelu Lukaku. The Tottenham forward sits at an extremely generous 16/1 to be named top goalscorer, whilst the Belgian can be backed at 18/1.
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